Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Slim Fast, Cabbage soup, Low-carb, Keto, Dr Sebi, Low GI, Noom, myfitnesspal…
When it comes to weight loss, you name it, I’ve probably tried it and I’ve always been fortunate to see the scale go down in the first couple of weeks. I can’t say that I ever achieved the target weight I’d set myself and ironically, when I did finally lose all the weight I wanted, it was during a time when I hadn’t been following any specific diet programme at all.
I’ve noticed in the eating disorder recovery space that diets and intentional weight loss are often viewed and spoken about negatively, or eradicated from the agenda completely. While I do understand where it’s coming from and why care must be taken when recovering from an eating disorder, I don’t find much of the content helpful or liberating.
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say that I see how these diets and weight loss tools impacted my relationship with food and perpetuated the yo-yo weight cycle, however, as someone recovered from Binge Eating Disorder who gained a substantial amount of weight during my recovery, you’ll never hear me say diets don’t work or that you shouldn’t want to lose weight.
First of all, the word diet is only related to restriction and weight loss because of the context, meaning and judgment that society and culture has attached to it. In its simplest form, a diet is just the food and drink that we take in. That only implies restriction and weight loss if we interpret it through ‘diet culture’ glasses or live with an eating disorder – both of which I have experienced first hand. We’re the ones who give meaning to words and while I acknowledge how diet culture amplified through media has been harmful (to myself and others), in my recovery I have focused on controlling what I can, which is my own mindset rather than societies ability to hijack a word.
Instead of thinking about diet as rules and restrictions, I’ve been expanding my own mind to think about what a diet can be and include – what can I take in that will help to maintain a healthy mind, body and spirit? How can my diet add value to my life? I’m looking at it without making weight loss the centre of attention, but acknowledging that reducing my weight in this way feels right for me and my life. An abundant life is the goal and my diet is just one small but significant part of that.
Diet culture as it’s defined in our society now, is no longer something I subscribe to and it certainly wasn’t going to help me in my recovery (that’s why I followed my therapist’s advice and fought against the desire to diet and lose weight during my treatment). However, I’ve had to acknowledge how diets helped me get through years of my life when living in my body felt like living through a nightmare, and I can’t, in fact I refuse, to ignore that truth.
In order to grow and feel empowered about creating a better present and future for myself, I’ve had to make peace with the experiences I had with all the diets I followed in the past. Interestingly, when I sat down and reflected on each one of them in turn, I saw positives in every single one and learned lessons from them that I use and include in my diet of abundance now.
I have to acknowledge that although I never achieved my ultimate weight loss goal through these programmes, in the absence of any other solutions, these diets kept me going. They gave me hope, they gave me motivation to get up in the morning and not fall completely in to the negative feelings or low self esteem that I felt. Every new diet I started came with possibility and the opportunity to imagine a better life for myself – if you’ve ever felt hopeless and lost in life, you’ll know how precious that is.
Did they solve my real deep problems, the ones that therapy helped me with? No. Did they get me to the weight I’d put on the form when I started? No. Did they contribute and exacerbate how horrible I already felt in my skin? At times, yes. But did they help me survive? Did they give me the hope I needed to get through my lowest days, so that I could eventually see the day when I’d reach out for help and deal with those deep issues? Abso-frickin-lutely.
That’s why I won’t be that person speaking negatively about the very thing that might be helping others now, people who are exactly where I used to be and holding on for dear life, to anything that keeps them going.
I’m not a good and bad, right or wrong thinker
Deciding whether diets work is all relative to what you really need at any given moment. Maybe joining one of these diet clubs provides the social interaction and community that you don’t get anywhere else, maybe feeling in control of your food helps you deal with the hopelessness you feel in a difficult life situation. Only you can decide when and if you want to stop dieting, but let it be on your own terms rather than from someone on social media who you don’t know and who doesn’t know you.
The beauty about recovery is that it’s such a personal journey. It’s easy to tell people that diets don’t work, but maybe they do, not on the scale or on deep ‘fix the root cause’ level, but in other areas of a person’s life. Maybe they cause more harm than good, but maybe they’re also the only thing that stands between a person choosing to live and choosing not to.
I understand that people will have varying opinions and views of diets, but I find it shaming and guilt-inducing to be told I shouldn’t want to lose weight or that diets are bad, especially from medical professionals. Doesn’t this simply echo the same message that recovery was trying to lead me away from – being ashamed and hiding my true feelings in order to be accepted? To be honest, I find some of this anti-diet, body positive, pro-fat content just as extreme and harmful as diet culture, so I approach them with caution and limit their influence in the same way.
Whatever your perspective and opinion, it’s okay. I’m not here to convince you of mine, my message is to say, find your own way for yourself. Own your recovery journey, turn it in to the colourful, creative experience that works for you. Hear what others say, but YOU decide what’s right for you. There’s no one-size or opinion that fits all and even when the crowd (and the medical profession) are heading in one direction, that doesn’t mean it’s the right direction for you. Be brave, be bold and be you – unapologetically.
That my darling, is your road to recovery.